Rays of light from Dirty Projectors on ‘Lamp-Lit Prose’
During its initial rise, Dave Longstreth’s art-rock conglomerate Dirty Projectors rode on being somewhat inscrutable. At the turn of the decade, the band’s approach shifted into personal, personable verses. On both last year’s self-titled album and “Lamp Lit Prose,” which releases Friday, Longstreth is singing his own story and little else.
The albums seem two sides of the same coin, coming after a lengthy wait for new material. After 2012’s “Swing Lo Magellan,” Longstreth split with longtime romantic partner and co-Projector Amber Coffman, whose cool voice carried “Stillness Is the Move” and many other songs. Last year’s “Dirty Projectors” staggers with pain; the first sound it broadcasts is a tolling bell, followed by dirge-like piano chords and Longstreth doing his best Nina Simone impression. It’s an astounding work of songcraft and story of healing, and it strikes a few complicated notes in light of Coffman’s 2017 statement that the album’s content and release under the Dirty Projectors name were a surprise to her.
But with “Lamp-Lit Prose,” Longstreth has moved on. When you hit play, the first words you’ll hear are “The sky is dark, and earth turned to hell,” but the sound says sun and sand more than ash and brimstone, backed up by a guitar that sounds like a ukulele. Where last year Longstreth was in a “death spiral,” now he’s found new hope in a woman he calls a “Break-Thru.” That peppy lead single swerves and snaps with falsetto word-salad and an earworm riff, and the video shows Longstreth surrounded by tropical birds bopping to the beat.
Last year, he was “up in Hudson, bored and destructive,” and now he’s dancing down the street to cowbells and brass bands, shouting “I feel energy!” (That suit in the “Break-Thru” video isn’t the only thing he could have borrowed from David Byrne.)
The slew of collaborators on “Lamp-Lit Prose” give vital boosts of sonic diversity to what has become largely a one-man project. The opening track features guest vocals from Odd Future’s Syd, the candy-bright cultural commentary of “It’s a Lifestyle” is backed up by sighs from the sisters of HAIM, and Robin Pecknold of Fleet Foxes and Rostam, formerly of Vampire Weekend, add some wistful indie-folk harmonies to “You’re the One.”
Closer “(I Wanna) Feel It All” grafts glitches onto a melody that could have come from a Sunday morning radio jazz standard. “I wanna feel it all/August’s light, February’s pall/Thrill to the rise and rue the fall,” he sings. “Dirty Projectors” struggled toward hope, but “Lamp-Lit Prose” has found it, and at its end it opens toward new possibilities.